Weekly Bible study had just ended at the St. Paul church Wednesday night when a gunman opened fire on congregants milling about outside.
RayVell Carter ducked for cover. Then a child’s scream pierced the air.
“They shot my dad! They shot my dad!” Carter’s 8-year-old daughter cried. She sprinted toward her grandfather, who has a legal permit to carry a firearm. He shot into the darkness in self-defense.
Minutes later, police found Carter, 41, of Roseville, fatally wounded from a gunshot to the abdomen in a nearby yard. His Bible lay next to him.
On Thursday, neighbors remained haunted by what happened the night before at St. Albans Church of God in Christ.
“I can’t get that little girl out of my head,” said Darinda Lumpkins. “I’m scared for my own kids to be out here.”
Despite their shock and sadness, many residents said they won’t let the shooting mar their feelings about the Summit-University neighborhood.
“I won’t accept that this is the norm,” said Frances Goodlow, 75, who’s lived kitty-corner from the church for 50 years and in whose backyard Carter fell. “Those hoodlums aren’t going to scare me.”
Goodlow heard the flurry of gunfire around 8:40 p.m. Wednesday and, from her kitchen window, watched Carter’s attempt to flee behind a row of parked cars. Until now, she says violence has largely bypassed her Aurora Avenue block, where a close-knit group of multigenerational families has watched out for one another.
Carter’s death was St. Paul’s 20th homicide of the year and the sixth this month. Police say they can’t recall such a bloody stretch, which has included three fatal shootings in a single nine-hour period.
Police spokesman Steve Linders called the brazen attack “incomprehensible” but said it wasn’t random. Investigators from the city’s gang unit are assisting on the case, but no arrests have been made.
It’s not clear why someone would have targeted Carter or his family as they left their house of worship. Although Carter had four felony drug convictions, his criminal record has been clean since 2012.
Gathering to remember
On Thursday afternoon, a group of friends and family gathered on the sidewalk outside St. Albans, where Carter’s uncle, the Rev. William Land Sr., serves as pastor. Mourners formed a circle to pray and remember the father of three.
Mary Peeples carefully placed a vase of sunflowers on the church steps, now blanketed in memorial cards and tributes.
The Rev. Alethea Chaney of Nehemiah’s Walls International Church helped lead the impromptu service of about 20 people.
A friend of Carter’s walked away from the circle, hanging his head.
“It’s not fair,” he said to himself. “It’s not right.”
The latest shooting occurred amid intense debate among city leaders and residents over whether to cut five police officer positions from the 2020 budget, as well as whether to invest in technology that alerts police when shots are fired.
Mayor Melvin Carter (no relation to the victim) wants to scale back the nine new officer positions he proposed last year to four. He has noted that the police budget would still increase by $4.5 million, much of that going to cost-of-living raises for the remaining 608 sworn officers.
Even before Wednesday’s shooting, Police Chief Todd Axtell called the violence “unprecedented” in his 30 years with the department and rolled out a series of responses: Five additional officers are now patrolling each shift. Investigators are pivoting to gun violence cases, and reserve officers and St. Paul’s Law Enforcement Career Path Academy students are knocking on doors, handing out fliers and speaking with residents.
Hours before RayVell Carter’s death, Axtell pleaded for more resources at the City Council’s budget meeting.
“I understand that you have difficult decisions to make regarding the 2020 budget — I truly do,” Axtell said. “I also know that cutting police officers is absolutely not in the best interest of the city of St. Paul.”
On Thursday evening, Mayor Carter cast the recent uptick in violent crime as an “anomaly” and defended his budget plan.
“You can’t make long-term budgets based on anomalies; you have to make long-term budgets based on long-term trends. And we’re doing that,” the mayor told reporters after speaking at the grand opening of the Frogtown Community Center. “It’s heartbreaking to see. … We need to treat this as a public health epidemic. How do we keep cycles from self-perpetuating?”
Praise for victim
Meanwhile, tributes continued to pour in for Carter.
“RayVell was truly a person who was doing his best to serve God and raise his children,” said Frank Frazier, a church elder and Carter’s cousin. “He had a smile that made you smile when you were upset.”
Carter’s eldest child, RayVeisha Carter, posted on Facebook: “What does one say to their little sister when she asks, ‘Where can you go that’s safe and doesn’t have guns?’ ”